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My father lives confined to the surgical bed in my parent’s den. A tough existence for anyone, but harder for someone who once ruled Barone Manor with sharp suits and an iron fist. A father who was always loved by his children but, if we’re being honest, they were also smart to fear. 

But that was then. Before a disease got the edge. Today, suits have been replaced by undershirts and he only leaves the house via the ambulance that carts him to dialysis. If you knew him then, you barely recognize him now.

Seven years ago my father lost his left leg, toe-by-toe, to diabetes. He’s spent the last eight months restricted to his at-home surgical bed fighting to save his right leg. Despite staying off it as ordered, the foot is dying from lack of oxygen; it’s becoming septic. The doctors haven’t told him yet, but he knows. We all know. It’s time to save his life and take the other leg. But he’s vowed he’ll die before he sees it happen. Content to avoid the conversation and the anger, the doctors, for now, pretend there are alternatives.

In town for a few days, I visit my parents. My mother and I powwow in the kitchen out of earshot to talk options. When terms like “nursing home”, “rehab” and “long-term solutions” are discussed, I poke my head around the corner to watch him. He looks defenseless, childlike even, chewing his shirt, talking to the people on TV and riffling through his “camp bag” – the blue tote that holds his books and movies for dialysis. He catches me watching him and waves his stump hello like an elephant maneuvering its trunk.

It used to turn my stomach. Now I can’t help but smile.

On good days, my dad is playful. On bad ones, he’s angry. But on all days, I am his Favorite. His only daughter sandwiched between sons, I am his constant defender and his champion. I send him my recent press clippings, knowing he uses them to flirt with the hospital nurses and to fight for his choice of prime dialysis chairs.

Noticing his good mood, I grab his Jet Checkers set and challenge him to a game.

“I won’t let you win”, he says.

Checkers is a new ritual for us. The game gets his mind going and sparks conversations we don’t have otherwise. As we play, my dad talks. As his daughter, I listen, storing his lessons over time.

He tells me:

  • We are Italian, which means you must marry Italian – at least 75 percent or it doesn’t count. Your first child will be named Frankie, a sign of respect for your father.
  • When I die, take care of your mother and your brothers. You’re the strong one. You get that from me. You get your nose and feet from me, too. No one’s perfect.
  • Start an IRA now. You should have started it five years ago, but you don’t listen. Who knows what the future will hold? Health doesn’t last forever, kid, and you have to be prepared.
  • Don’t root for the Red Sox. You were raised a Met fan. There’s nothing more important in life than loyalty.
  • Learn to make sauce from scratch. And rice balls. That’s how you keep a husband.
  • Stay beautiful. Your mother caught me by shaking her ass. Worked well for her.
  • Make your own money, but don’t become too independent. Let him think you need him, even if you don’t. Especially if you don’t. Money makes the rules, but you need someone to open the jars.
  • Don’t change your last name when you get married. You’re Frank Barone’s girl. That means something.
  • I don’t care how much you like him, if I catch you living with him, I’ll kill you. If I catch you giving him those eyes, I’ll kill you both.
  • Always call on Election Day so I can tell you who to vote for. Don’t vote for a woman.
  • Travel the world; start now. You may not have time later.
  • Trust your daddy above anyone else. And visit more. I won’t be around forever.

The Checkers game we’re both pretending to play is up. Despite his shameless cheating, my father’s backed himself into a corner, opening up a triple jump play. One move and I sweep the board.

“Let me win or get nothing when I die.”

I smile, make my move, crush him. Never show weakness. Another lesson from my dad and I know he wouldn’t want it any other way.  

[In March 2011, my father lost his battle to save a useless leg, but regained his freedom. Today he’s back to ruling Barone Manor – this time with the help of a red mobility scooter that he goes “off-roading” with in our backyard to command over the peach trees. Interrupted, perhaps, but never defeated.


15 Responses to “Lessons from an Italian Father”

  1. Pam

    Wow, this caught me off guard. Beautiful! The memoir class has obviously unlocked your ability to take a moment and catch every wrinkle and crease of it.I have not talked to my dad in years. Childhood was tough – painful actually. And as an adult, its easier to just stay away, deny, wish.I wish things were different with my family and that my siblings and I had some kind of relationship with him. Its hard when childhood was tainted by bad stuff, truly bad stuff. Its hard to forget, let alone try to forgive.But I often wonder how I will feel when he is really gone.Like your dad said, he won’t be there forever. Will I be prepared to deal with what I won’t deal with now, then? Or will I be faced with forever guilt?And the diabetes/dialysis thing? Not my dad – but the guy I was with for many years, until that had to change. His diabetes raged and he pretended nothing was wrong – never ate right, never did his finger sticks, drank, smoked, lived large. Then diabetes stole some vision, then some heart function, then finally the kidneys. In the winter, the ambulance came for him too three days a week for dialysis. And he had a similar blue bag – his dialysis bag. He had headphones, a blanket (for he was always cold) and a racing form.Odd how we have so much in common.God, this resonated and made me think and got me teary after an already long moist day.Love this part of Frank Barone’s daughter. My, she is talented!

  2. Amber-Lee Dibble

    Lisa Barone, Frank’s Girl. All I can say is wow. You are blessed to be able to put into words, that which I just read. Incredible. I felt my heart break for you and your family and then I felt it swell as I read the rest and remembered my Grandfather. (Maybe, although I can’t imagine him failing to inform me, Gramps was Italian!~ the important lessons sounded so familiar I laughed with tears in my eyes!) You moved me and I guess that is one of the reason’s I came to be here. I can’t wait to read some more. Thank you for reminding us (me) today what the bottom line really is in life.Take Care.~Alaska Chick

  3. Steve Early

    This is an unbelievable job, Lisa. Your dad has every reason to be incredibly proud of his Favorite. And, as a dad with a daughter sandwiched in between two sons myself, I can tell you that every single bit of advice he gave you is spot on … except for that thing about not rooting for the Red Sox. He’s just wrong there.

  4. Sherry Leblond

    Lisa- what an inspiring story! I like reading all your stories and post but this one is by far my favorite. Parents are not around forever- enjoy every moment you can.Take careSherry

  5. Phil

    I thought I was reading about my father. Wow. Mine has passed 8 years now but there isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t think about his "lessons".BTW – Give the Red Sox a chance, we need all the help we can get here in Boston

  6. Juli

    Very moving! Even if you aren’t Italian, you can recognize the strengths our fathers give us if they are good men to the core! Thank you for sharing this. It made me think of my own daddy and his wisdoms!

  7. Sarah Page

    I’m 43 years old and my mother still tells me who to vote for. I let her think I agree and then go vote for who I want to anyway. It makes her feel good.My Dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in early 2010. He doesn’t know who I am anymore. I can’t tell you how much I miss those "fatherly advice" conversations I used to hate when I was a kid.Cherish that man in your life. He sounds like the Dad any girl would be proud to have.

  8. Benjamin

    Hi Lisa! This is an insightful piece. I’m particularly sold out in respect of the pieces of advice below:Learn to make sauce from scratch. And rice balls. That’s how you keep a husband. Make your own money, but don’t become too independent. Let him think you need him, even if you don’t. Especially if you don’t. Money makes the rules, but you need someone to open the jars. Keep it up!Kindest regards.

  9. callmejacque

    I just dont know what to say.Im not close to my father or rather we never get a chance to be.I always wish we do or atleast can converse like that and if we were i woundn’t mind him telling me who’s to vote.

  10. alaskachick

    Hi there! <br/>This account, "girlygrizzly" was recently HACKED by some hacker-slime-ball. I really want to receive your email, so please send it to: (or) <br/> (or) <br/> <br/> <br/>I know ~ that’s a lot! Remember that you can always reach me (Amber-Lee, aka Alaska Chick) or us (Pioneer Outfitters) any of these ways as well: <br/> <br/>Twitter~ @AlaskaChickBlog <br/>Facebook~ Amber-Lee Dibble <br/>LinkedIn~ Amber-Lee Dibble <br/>Skype~ alaskachick007 <br/> <br/>AND! You can also call Master Guide Terry Overly here in Chisana, at (907) 734-0007. <br/> <br/>Don’t loose me! <br/>~Amber-Lee


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